To punish Moscow, EU bans most Russian oil imports

BRUSSELS (AP) — In its biggest effort to punish Russia for its war in Ukraine, the European Union agreed to ban the vast majority of Russian oil imports after tense negotiations, testing how far the bloc is willing to exclude Moscow.

From the moment Russia invaded on February 24, the West is trying to make Moscow pay the economic price for its war. But targeting its lucrative energy sector is seen in Europe as a last resort and proving the most difficult, as the group relies on Russia for 25% of its oil and 40% of its natural gas. European countries, which are more dependent on Russia, are particularly reluctant to act.

EU leaders took an incredible move just a few months ago, reaching an agreement late Monday Cut Russia’s total oil imports by around 90% over the next six months.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre de Crowe called the embargo a “big step forward” and Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin called it “a watershed moment”.

“Sanctions have a clear goal: to get Russia to end the war and withdraw its troops and to agree with Ukraine on a sensible and fair peace,” German Chancellor Olaf Schultz said.

Ukraine estimates the ban could cost Russia tens of billions of dollars.

“The oil embargo will accelerate the countdown to the collapse of Russia’s economy and war machine,” said Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba.

The deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council said the energy sanctions on the country were aimed at hurting ordinary Russians and making it harder for Moscow to fund social projects.

“They hate us all! These decisions are based on hatred for Russia, the Russians and all the inhabitants,” Dmitry Medvedev, who is also a former president and prime minister, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

However, Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s permanent representative to the Vienna International Organization, appeared to dismiss the move, saying Moscow would find other buyers.

Still, analyst Simone Tagliapietra said Russia may have to sell its oil at a steep discount. Tagliapietra, an energy expert and researcher at Brussels-based think tank Bruegel, called the embargo a “major blow”.

Matteo Villa, an analyst at the ISPI think tank in Milan, agreed that Russia would now take a considerable hit, but warned that the move could ultimately backfire.

“The risk is that oil prices in general will rise due to European sanctions. If prices rise significantly, the risk is that Russia starts making more money and Europe loses the bet,” he said.

Russia has also not shied away from withholding energy to achieve its goals. Russian state energy giant Gazprom said it was cutting off gas supplies to Dutch trader GasTerra and Denmark’s Oster, as well as halting deliveries to Europe’s Shell Energy to Germany. There are other suppliers in Germany, with GasTerra and Oersted saying they are ready to close.

Gazprom has previously stopped Bulgaria, Poland and Finland.

Meanwhile, the EU has urged other countries to avoid trade barriers on agricultural products as Russia’s war raises the risk of a global food crisis.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that Russia has blocked the export of 22 million tons of Ukrainian grains, most of which are destined for people in the Middle East and Africa. He accused Moscow of “deliberately creating this problem”.

In other developments:

— Russian troops have occupied about half of a major city in eastern Ukraine, according to the mayor. Analysts have portrayed the battle for West Ville Donetsk as part of the Kremlin’s race against time: the city is key to Russia’s efforts to complete the capture of the industrial zone in eastern Donbass before more Western weapons arrive to bolster Ukraine’s defenses.

— A Ukrainian court on Tuesday convicted two Russian soldiers of war crimes for shelling civilian buildings. It sentenced two men to 11 1/2 years in prison, ending the country’s second war crimes trial since the Russian invasion.

The EU oil embargo is part of a new package of sanctions that will also target Russia’s largest bank and state media accused of spreading propaganda, covering crude oil and oil products, but not pipelined oil.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban requested the exception. More than 60 percent of Hungary’s oil comes from Russia, much of it via the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline.

The EU estimates that around 90 percent of Russian oil will be banned by the end of this year. That figure includes a ban on all Russian oil shipped by sea – which accounts for two-thirds of EU imports from Russia – and the decision by Germany and Poland to stop using oil from the northern branch of the Druzhba pipeline.

The compromise exposed the increasing difficulty of reaching consensus among EU leaders when vital national interests come into play.

Agreeing on another round of measures could be tougher: the next issue on the agenda is whether to target gas, which is harder to cut off. This is because it represents a larger proportion of Europe’s energy mix.

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Associated Press reporters Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, Mike Corder in The Hague, The Netherlands, Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy, and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine